2004 was an arduous year for Richard Butler's Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations. In September, the 86-year-old Butler died after a long period of poor health. In the ensuing struggle for authority over the fragmented and depleted organization – which began while Butler was still ailing – two leading contenders for the Aryan Nations legacy emerged: a breakaway group based in Sebring, Florida, (previously based in Pennsylvania and then briefly in Kansas City, Kansas) and a collection of Butler loyalists based in Alabama.
Until early March 2005, the Aryan Nations splinter faction had been led by Charles Juba in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, who moved the headquarters to Kansas City for unknown reasons. Shortly after relocation, Juba announced his resignation as both leader and member of the organization, naming August Kreis as his successor. In addition Jay Faber was appointed “Assistant Chaplain” and a man using the alias Wulfran Hall was named “High Counsel.” Juba offered no clear reason for stepping down.
This contingent of Aryan Nations, now led by Kreis, has been aided in its campaign to secure the allegiance of remaining members by Posse Comitatus leader James Wickstrom. Recently named “World Chaplain” for Kreis’s group, Wickstrom suggested in October that Butler had chosen Juba as his successor:
Aryan Nations future [sic] has been secured by the foresight of Pastor Richard G. Butler, the diligent work of Pastor August Kreis III, National Director Charles John Juba, and the officers who are subordinate to them. Under no circumstances from this day forward should there be any confusion as to who leads Aryan Nations.
Wickstrom's message – which proved premature – was quickly countered by the Butler faithful.
“August Kreis and the [faction then in Pennsylvania] have no affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nation,” a message on Butler's old Web site announced. “In fact there exists no reason for the bogus [Aryan Nations] to exist other than to siphon off support of the true organization.”
At the same time as it was denouncing Juba and Wickstrom as frauds, Butler's contingent moved its headquarters from Hayden, Idaho, where Butler had maintained Aryan Nations’ hub for 30 years, to a post office box in Lincoln, Alabama, held by Clark Patterson of nearby Talladega.
According to Patterson, also known as "Brother Laslo," a four-person leadership would succeed Butler. While Patterson still has not formally named the leaders, the most influential figures in the group include Jonathan Williams of Atlanta, the new director of communications; Rick Spring of Little Rock, Arkansas, Butler's head of security; and Patterson himself.
While neither bloc recognizes the other's legitimacy, both continue to threaten persons of different races and religions as well as the government. Steve Holten, the Nevada leader for the Butler remnant, was arrested in October 2004 for threats he made against employees of the Reno Gazette-Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle and several state government officials. In his threats, Holten stated, "Our violent terrorist actions will be a shock to the citizens of Reno and San Francisco. It will be gruesome, and something that has never been seen ever." He added: "We of Aryan Nations are angry, and we hate and we kill." Holten pleaded guilty November 29 and faces a maximum of 5 years and a $250,000 fine.
August Kreis was similarly extreme, stating in November 2004: "It is time that our race, and all the races, awake to the fact that is the jEw WORLDWIDE that must DIE and not a jEw left alive before we have peace on earth. THIS is the TRUTH that we must bring to ALL the races before an end can be brought to Hatred on this planet" [capitalization and grammar in original].
The rivalry between the groups and their threatening language indicate that while their compound has been dismantled and figurehead has died, Aryan Nations' members continue to pose a risk to society and law enforcement.
2004: Aryan Nations' record of violence
Aryan Nations members were involved in several serious crimes during 2004. The perpetrators included:
· Sean Gillespie, who called himself a corporal in the organization, was indicted on charges that he firebombed a synagogue in Oklahoma City.
· Steve Holten, Nevada contact for the group, pleaded guilty to making death threats to state officials in Reno and San Francisco.
· Zachary Beck, who in 2003 shared a ticket with Richard Butler in Hayden, Idaho, city elections, was arrested after he allegedly fired at police during a stand-off in Longview, Washington.
· Karl Gharst, former "staff leader" of Aryan Nations, was arrested in Kootenai County, Idaho, after he allegedly made death threats against a social worker he said had kidnapped his daughter.